All Glendale Water & Power customers next month will be billed through the 120,000 “smart meters” the utility has been installing for nearly two years, officials announced this week.
And as the utility begins to collect more personal data through the rollout of the smart grid, it will need hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of security software updates.
“It's just the final aspects to put in place,” said the utility's general manager, Steve Zurn, at a Glendale Water & Power Commission meeting Monday.
Smart meters replaced analog meters throughout the city months ago, but the utility has still been using meter readers to manually report electricity and water use as officials ensure that the system works as intended.
About 25% of customers are already being billed through the digital reads, but officials said that after some technology upgrades this month, the entire system will be online for billing beginning next month.
“The system does work as we expected,” said Craig Kuennen, the utility's business transformation and marketing administrator.
Smart meters had a rough start in Glendale after opponents spoke out against them at several public meetings, claiming that the radio frequencies emitted from the devices made them sick.
Fewer have complained about the user data being collected.
On Tuesday, the City Council approved spending more than $700,000 on software and data security upgrades that would protect the personal data gathered through the digital system.
Utilities across the country are switching to smart grids in order to increase efficiencies and possibly lighten energy loads during peak times as customers curb use during high cost periods. The U.S. Department of Energy gave Glendale $20 million of the $70 million it needed to upgrade the city's electrical and water systems.
Through the smart grid system, Glendale residents can view their consumption through online portals.
Glendale Water & Power is also testing a digital photo frame that shows energy and water use on an easy-to-read display.
In a few months, the utility plans to use focus groups to analyze how pilot program participants feel about the frames, Kuennen said.
Although the billing switch will begin in January, there are still several parts of the smart grid that won't be complete until 2014, officials said.
The utility had planned to finish the entire project by March 2013, but federal officials have given Glendale a one-year extension.
Some of the final steps to be completed, which will cost about $5 million, include data management issues.